finland · food · sustainability

New grocery store WeFood aims to cut food waste in Finland

Everyone hates wasting food. In our family, we routinely plan the weekly meals and make sure not to shop for anything extra. We have a strict policy of finishing everything off your plate and try our best to minimise waste. Unfortunately the global stats on waste in the food supply chain are discouraging. Only in Finland, between 335 and 460 millions of kilograms of food is wasted every year. It translates into 60 to 83 kg per person. Interestingly, the biggest share is wasted before it even reaches the retailers. Let this fact sink in: if most food is thrown away before it even reaches the shops, it means it’s completely off the consumer’s hands.

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Someone in Finland decided to do something about it and WeFood was founded. Ran by Finn Church Aid (Kirkon Ulkomaanapu), WeFood is a grocery shop which opened last September in Kalasatama, Helsinki, and sells exclusively “rescued” food to end consumers. I went to visit the shop and met with Noora Pohjanheimo, Press Officer for WeFood. The shop is small and cute, and located in K1 floor of the recently built mall Redi, very convenient as it’s near the Kalasatama metro station. WeFood’s assortment varies from day to day. Noora explained that they have partners supplying them regularly, like Heinon Tukku and Apetit, and everyday the shop receives fruit, vegetables, and bread. The remaining assortment depends on exceptional donations. Once, a farmer contacted them to donate an a big unsold batch of beetroots. Another time, a supplier had to get rid of a batch of perfectly sane products with an outdated packaging after a rebranding.

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When I visited, they were selling some veggies, herbs, spices and nuts, protein shakes, bread, and more. Noora told me they try to be consistent and update their social media channels (check out their Instagram and Facebook pages) to inform customers of what’s come in for the day. If you are afraid of wasting a trip, that’s where you need to look. Every product is sold for 50-70% off from retail price, a great deal for the end consumer. The products are perfectly healthy and edible, and the reasons for them to be discarded are usually small imperfections or slightly damaged packages.

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The original idea came from Denmark, where three twin shops have been successfully running for years. The Finnish store is open daily for long hours and mainly ran by volunteers. Everyone can offer their time, even if they are not fluent in Finnish. The minimum required commitment is to do 3 turns of 4 hours in a month. Personally, I find it an excellent way to train Finnish language skills while doing something meaningful. There are several volunteering opportunities, beside serving at the counter. They need volunteer drivers to pick up donations, volunteers to handle the assortment in the shop, and even an helping hand with social media. The volume of the business and its original nature were the biggest challenges, Noora shared. The store is open for 12 hours during weekdays and planning shifts of numerous volunteers is demanding.

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Beside saving food from the trash bin, Finn Church Aid plans to use the profits from the shop to do further good and fund their development projects in Finland as well as other countries. For examples Finn Church Aid runs projects to support language learning of asylum seekers in Finland, to rebuild Syrian schools and to fight hunger in South Sudan.

The fact that profits will be aimed at charity work makes it even better. It’s a win-win concept: it’s a great deal for the consumer, it tackles a huge social problem, and it further serves vulnerable people. I truly recommend everyone to buy a metro ticket and go check out this new fantastic store. If you want to give your contribution and volunteer, get in touch with wefood[ at ]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi. I was very impressed with what Noora and her teammates have set up. It’s inspiring to witness how they decided to take action and do something about a crippling social issue.

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